Store All of Your Product Roadmap Files, Mockups, and Images in Aha!

Last week we released our new universal import screen which allows you to easily move your product roadmap from Excel to Aha! You can use this new capability to import all types of information, including: products, initiatives, releases, ideas, features, and users. And now you can store all of your product related files, mockups, and images in Aha! too.

Store All of Your Product Roadmap Files, Mockups, and Images in Aha!

Last week we released our new universal import screen which allows you to easily move your product roadmap from Excel to Aha! You can use this new capability to import all types of information, including: products, initiatives, releases, ideas, features, and users. And now you can store all of your product related files, mockups, and images in Aha! too.

Why Product Management is so misunderstood

I've encountered lots of software startups that want to start up a Product Management function, even though they don't really understand what the Product Management role is or its activities. (I guess that's why they ask for my help).

I've learned this is really common. Software is full of people (especially engineers) who don't really know what Product Management is or have a misperception about it.

Why the lack of common understanding? Here's my take:

  1. Many software folk haven't worked with Product Management before. There are still plenty of software companies that don't have a Product Management function. Most seed-stage startups don't. Nor do many software companies that grew out of professional services, custom IT development, gaming, entertainment, or publishing.

  2. There is a little-known HUGE variance in how the role is defined from company to company within the software industry, even though most people tend to assume everyone does Product Management the same way. Truth is, most people haven't worked with enough companies to see how varied things really are. But let me assure you, even within a tightly defined industry sector, things are extremely varied. I've worked with over two dozen companies and every single one defined the role differently.

  3. Many software folk have not been exposed to "good" Product Management. They've seen PMs who come up with random ideas for features based on gut feel (instead of sourcing or validating them with the market) and then just write some requirements docs and user stories. Throw in a few product demos and some heated debates about the color scheme of icons, and that's what many people think Product Management is.

In this earlier post, I explain how this limited view of Product Management, although EXTREMELY COMMON, is highly dysfunctional and ineffective. It's missing the CORE activities of gathering market insight and defining product strategy. Without these essential pieces, Product Management becomes disconnected from the market and loses sight of the big picture. In which case, what's the point of even having PM? I suspect you'd be better off using a roulette wheel to decide on product features.

Why Product Management is so misunderstood

I've encountered lots of software startups that want to start up a Product Management function, even though they don't really understand what the Product Management role is or its activities. (I guess that's why they ask for my help).

I've learned this is really common. Software is full of people (especially engineers) who don't really know what Product Management is or have a misperception about it.

Why the lack of common understanding? Here's my take:

  1. Many software folk haven't worked with Product Management before. There are still plenty of software companies that don't have a Product Management function. Most seed-stage startups don't. Nor do many software companies that grew out of professional services, custom IT development, gaming, entertainment, or publishing.

  2. There is a little-known HUGE variance in how the role is defined from company to company within the software industry, even though most people tend to assume everyone does Product Management the same way. Truth is, most people haven't worked with enough companies to see how varied things really are. But let me assure you, even within a tightly defined industry sector, things are extremely varied. I've worked with over two dozen companies and every single one defined the role differently.

  3. Many software folk have not been exposed to "good" Product Management. They've seen PMs who come up with random ideas for features based on gut feel (instead of sourcing or validating them with the market) and then just write some requirements docs and user stories. Throw in a few product demos and some heated debates about the color scheme of icons, and that's what many people think Product Management is.

    In this earlier post, I explain how this limited view of Product Management, although EXTREMELY COMMON, is highly dysfunctional and ineffective. It's missing the CORE activities of gathering market insight and defining product strategy. Without these essential pieces, Product Management becomes disconnected from the market and loses sight of the big picture. In which case, what's the point of even having PM? I suspect you'd be better off using a roulette wheel to decide on product features.

What is Product Management? (the core, the over-extended, and the totally dysfunctional)

Sometimes I help companies (usually startups) kickstart their Product Management function. These companies often know they WANT Product Management, even though they often don't have a clear idea of what Product Managers actually do.

In another post, I speculate about why this widespread ignorance of Product Management exists. But for this post, I'm just going to stick to what I've seen based on working with dozens of software companies.

Product Management varies greatly

The roles and responsibilities of Product Management are defined very differently from company to company, even within a tightly defined industry sector.

Before I started working as a consultant, I thought that pretty much every place defined product management like my former employers.

Not so.

At some places, product managers were strategic leaders. At others, they were evangelists, preaching the gospel of their product to the market. At others still, they were basically business analysts focused solely on creating requirements docs. And finally, I encountered many product managers who did not seem like product managers at all, but instead were really proJECT managers (keepers of the Gantt chart), sales engineers, or coders. In short, roles and responsibilities of Product Management often overlap with many other functions.

But despite the wide variation, there were a few areas that everyone agreed were the primary responsibility of product management.

The core activities of Product Management

Industry-wide, almost everyone agrees that defining the product (deciding which feature are in which product release) and guiding development (by writing requirements and/or user stories) are solely the responsibility of Product Management.

However, I firmly believe that it is NOT POSSIBLE for PMs to do a good job of defining products without:

  1. Deeply understanding the product's market: what its users are like, the problems and pain they face, the constraints they operate under, etc.
  2. Completely internalizing the product strategy, the "big picture" rationale for why the company is developing this product for this market and why it will win.
  3. Using strong listening and influencing skills to learn what's most important and to get others (especially developers) aligned with their product plans.

So, at every FUNCTIONAL product management organization I've seen, this diagram shows the CORE activities of Product Management that can't safely be assumed by another function in the company:

The core plus some other product activities

While the above diagram shows the essential activities of good Product Management, usually product managers have several other product-related responsibilities. In the below diagram, I show these responsibilities in the light blue ring.

Product Management is usually responsible for a few of these activities, with other roles like Product Marketing or Sales Engineers are responsible for the rest.

I'd generally caution against having Product Management be responsible for ALL of these activities, because it might take away from time to address the core PM activities, but I think it is good for PMs to take on a few of these product-related activities.

Common Dysfunction #1: Too many non-product activities

This brings us to a common dysfunction: requiring the Product Managers take on several non-Product responsibilities, in addition to the Core PM activities and lots of non-core Product responsibilities. These leave the PMs without adequate time to visit customers or prospects, and can prevent the PM from acting as the "voice of the market" (because they are too busy coding or managing projects).

Dysfunction #2: (The most common and dangerous): neglecting the core

The opposite situation is perhaps the most common and most dangerous dysfunction, where Product Management skips the core activities of gathering market insight and product strategy.

In this situation, the product managers come up with product features based on their personal whims and preferences (which are almost always wrong), spend their time arguing with developers (who don't respect them because they realize the arbitrariness of the PM's decision process), and putting out fires which could have been avoided with a bit more planning and foresight. The resulting products are lack-luster and don't live up to their potential.

I'd estimate that about 50% of companies are victims of this very common dysfunction. Sometimes it's because they just don't know any better. But even very good Product Management organizations can degrade into this dysfunction if they are not vigilant. It takes real discipline and time to have your product managers constantly talking to customers, gathering market insight, and refining their product strategies. It is oh-so-tempting to let these activities slide when you're feeling overwhelmed by the huge amount of tasks Product Management is often expected to help with, most of which are non-core product tasks (the light blue ring above) or not even related to product.

But if you neglect the core activities, no one else is going to pick up the slack. You're just going to be making poor product decisions and stuck in a reactive mode.

In contrast, if you selectively neglect non-core product tasks, there is often another function that can pitch in (such as Product Marketing). And for non-product tasks (such as coding), well, you probably shouldn't be doing them anyway because they detract from the "market mindset" that PMs need.

What is Product Management? (the core, the over-extended, and the totally dysfunctional)

Sometimes I help companies (usually startups) kickstart their Product Management function. These companies often know they WANT Product Management, even though they often don't have a clear idea of what Product Managers actually do.

In another post, I speculate about why this widespread ignorance of Product Management exists. But for this post, I'm just going to stick to what I've seen based on working with dozens of software companies.

Product Management varies greatly

The roles and responsibilities of Product Management are defined very differently from company to company, even within a tightly defined industry sector.

Before I started working as a consultant, I thought that pretty much every place defined product management like my former employers.

Not so.

At some places, product managers were strategic leaders. At others, they were evangelists, preaching the gospel of their product to the market. At others still, they were basically business analysts focused solely on creating requirements docs. And finally, I encountered many product managers who did not seem like product managers at all, but instead were really proJECT managers (keepers of the Gantt chart), sales engineers, or coders. In short, roles and responsibilities of Product Management often overlap with many other functions.

But despite the wide variation, there were a few areas that everyone agreed were the primary responsibility of product management.

The core activities of Product Management

Industry-wide, almost everyone agrees that defining the product (deciding which feature are in which product release) and guiding development (by writing requirements and/or user stories) are solely the responsibility of Product Management.

However, I firmly believe that it is NOT POSSIBLE for PMs to do a good job of defining products without:

  1. Deeply understanding the product's market: what its users are like, the problems and pain they face, the constraints they operate under, etc.
  2. Completely internalizing the product strategy, the "big picture" rationale for why the company is developing this product for this market and why it will win.
  3. Using strong listening and influencing skills to learn what's most important and to get others (especially developers) aligned with their product plans.

So, at every FUNCTIONAL product management organization I've seen, this diagram shows the CORE activities of Product Management that can't safely be assumed by another function in the company:

The core plus some other product activities

While the above diagram shows the essential activities of good Product Management, usually product managers have several other product-related responsibilities. In the below diagram, I show these responsibilities in the light blue ring.

Product Management is usually responsible for a few of these activities, with other roles like Product Marketing or Sales Engineers are responsible for the rest.

I'd generally caution against having Product Management be responsible for ALL of these activities, because it might take away from time to address the core PM activities, but I think it is good for PMs to take on a few of these product-related activities.

Common Dysfunction #1: Too many non-product activities

This brings us to a common dysfunction: requiring the Product Managers take on several non-Product responsibilities, in addition to the Core PM activities and lots of non-core Product responsibilities. These leave the PMs without adequate time to visit customers or prospects, and can prevent the PM from acting as the "voice of the market" (because they are too busy coding or managing projects).

Dysfunction #2: (The most common and dangerous): neglecting the core

The opposite situation is perhaps the most common and most dangerous dysfunction, where Product Management skips the core activities of gathering market insight and product strategy.

In this situation, the product managers come up with product features based on their personal whims and preferences (which are almost always wrong), spend their time arguing with developers (who don't respect them because they realize the arbitrariness of the PM's decision process), and putting out fires which could have been avoided with a bit more planning and foresight. The resulting products are lack-luster and don't live up to their potential.

I'd estimate that about 50% of companies are victims of this very common dysfunction. Sometimes it's because they just don't know any better. But even very good Product Management organizations can degrade into this dysfunction if they are not vigilant. It takes real discipline and time to have your product managers constantly talking to customers, gathering market insight, and refining their product strategies. It is oh-so-tempting to let these activities slide when you're feeling overwhelmed by the huge amount of tasks Product Management is often expected to help with, most of which are non-core product tasks (the light blue ring above) or not even related to product.

But if you neglect the core activities, no one else is going to pick up the slack. You're just going to be making poor product decisions and stuck in a reactive mode.

In contrast, if you selectively neglect non-core product tasks, there is often another function that can pitch in (such as Product Marketing). And for non-product tasks (such as coding), well, you probably shouldn't be doing them anyway because they detract from the "market mindset" that PMs need.

Quora: A parent’s love for adoptive children vs biological children

Originally posted to Quora.

The original question was "Do parents love biological children more than adopted children?"

Someone who was a biological father without adopted children, who was therefore speculating, posted:

...I think that we derive a certain fulfillment and gratification from natural children that we don't get from adopted ones. If you were a great athlete in high school, for example, it would be more gratifying to see your natural son or daughter excel in that way than it would to see an adopted child do so. You would still be very happy for them, but not in the same way.

My Response:

I'm an adoptive parent, and wish you hadn't speculated about this.

I wanted to provide a counterpoint to the example you put forth. Our adopted son is a very good athlete: he has natural athletic ability that he combines with a willingness to work hard, listen to his coaches, and focus. My husband and I are both very lacking in athletic talent, but we know that we are essential in developing our son's work ethic and desire to learn to excel.

When our son is competing, I cannot tell you how proud we feel of him. It is beyond gratifying. We see him achieve things that we would never have been able to ourselves at the same age, and that is a real thrill. All the while, we know that he wouldn't be achieving them were it not for our showing him how to harness his natural skills.

Why should parents be gratified or proud of what our genes encode? To me, that's like being proud of being tall or having brown eyes. I can only understand being proud of the effort you put in, obstacles you overcame, things you learned, goals you achieved. And that's the same for all parents, regardless of whether their kids are adopted or biological.

Quora: A parent’s love for adoptive children vs biological children

Originally posted to Quora.

The original question was "Do parents love biological children more than adopted children?"

Someone who was a biological father without adopted children, who was therefore speculating, posted:

...I think that we derive a certain fulfillment and gratification from natural children that we don't get from adopted ones. If you were a great athlete in high school, for example, it would be more gratifying to see your natural son or daughter excel in that way than it would to see an adopted child do so. You would still be very happy for them, but not in the same way.

My Response:

I'm an adoptive parent, and wish you hadn't speculated about this.

I wanted to provide a counterpoint to the example you put forth. Our adopted son is a very good athlete: he has natural athletic ability that he combines with a willingness to work hard, listen to his coaches, and focus. My husband and I are both very lacking in athletic talent, but we know that we are essential in developing our son's work ethic and desire to learn to excel.

When our son is competing, I cannot tell you how proud we feel of him. It is beyond gratifying. We see him achieve things that we would never have been able to ourselves at the same age, and that is a real thrill. All the while, we know that he wouldn't be achieving them were it not for our showing him how to harness his natural skills.

Why should parents be gratified or proud of what our genes encode? To me, that's like being proud of being tall or having brown eyes. I can only understand being proud of the effort you put in, obstacles you overcame, things you learned, goals you achieved. And that's the same for all parents, regardless of whether their kids are adopted or biological.

Quora: How should paternity leave be arranged for a gay man with an adopted child?

Orignally posted to Quora.

Q: How should paternity leave be arranged for a gay man with an adopted child?

Should he get paternity leave, which is usually shorter, or maternity leave? If he gets maternity leave, doesn't this suggest he is the 'mother' in the relationship, which is offensive to many people? What if both men in the relationship are given maternity leave by their respective companies? That's unfair as most couples don't enjoy such treatment. Should a gay couple be asked to specify which of them will be the primary day carer for the child and that person be given 'maternity' leave (under another name) while the other only gets 'paternity' leave?

My Answer:

I think you might be making incorrect assumptions about how maternity leave works.

I live in the USA, and at my former company, "maternity leave" was extended and paid for under the company's short term disability insurance benefit. Basically, they considered giving birth to a baby to be a short-term medical disability, and paid a percentage of your salary while you were "disabled." (12 weeks for a natural childbirth and 14 for a c-section). You needed your doctor to sign off on this and declare you as "disabled."

As an adoptive mother, however, I was completely ineligible for my company's paid maternity leave because I didn't give birth and therefore was not medically disabled. All fathers, gay or not, are in the same situation.

So, I got same amount of paid maternity leave as the dads did for paternity leave. A whopping 2 days.

Fortunately, I was able to take 12 weeks off, although unpaid, under the USA federal FMLA law. Both men and women, gay and straight, are eligible for the same amount of FMLA leave when a new child joins their household, be it a biological, adopted, or foster child. But it's unpaid.

Quora: How should paternity leave be arranged for a gay man with an adopted child?

Orignally posted to Quora.

Q: How should paternity leave be arranged for a gay man with an adopted child?

Should he get paternity leave, which is usually shorter, or maternity leave? If he gets maternity leave, doesn't this suggest he is the 'mother' in the relationship, which is offensive to many people? What if both men in the relationship are given maternity leave by their respective companies? That's unfair as most couples don't enjoy such treatment. Should a gay couple be asked to specify which of them will be the primary day carer for the child and that person be given 'maternity' leave (under another name) while the other only gets 'paternity' leave?

My Answer:

I think you might be making incorrect assumptions about how maternity leave works.

I live in the USA, and at my former company, "maternity leave" was extended and paid for under the company's short term disability insurance benefit. Basically, they considered giving birth to a baby to be a short-term medical disability, and paid a percentage of your salary while you were "disabled." (12 weeks for a natural childbirth and 14 for a c-section). You needed your doctor to sign off on this and declare you as "disabled."

As an adoptive mother, however, I was completely ineligible for my company's paid maternity leave because I didn't give birth and therefore was not medically disabled. All fathers, gay or not, are in the same situation.

So, I got same amount of paid maternity leave as the dads did for paternity leave. A whopping 2 days.

Fortunately, I was able to take 12 weeks off, although unpaid, under the USA federal FMLA law. Both men and women, gay and straight, are eligible for the same amount of FMLA leave when a new child joins their household, be it a biological, adopted, or foster child. But it's unpaid.